I always thought that my family does not have holiday traditions…well turns out that’s not true – the more I think about it the more memories come to mind. I don’t think my parents or grandparents ever thought about creating traditions or memories — the traditions just happened, some stuck in our family.
New Year’s is the one holiday in my life that I always, always looked forward to. New Year’s is also the biggest holiday for many Russian people, even bigger than Christmas. While Christmas is more commonly celebrated with friends, New Year’s has always been the holiday to celebrate with family, and you might be surprised to learn that in Russia, Santa comes by with gifts on New Year’s rather than Christmas.
When I was little, waiting and preparing for New Year’s was so exciting. First, my dad would bring a huge Christmas tree; he would drag it into the home covered with snow and ice. I would help to fill a large bucket of water. It will take time to secure the tree with upside-down bottles into the bucket and some rope that my dad would tie on top.
Decorating the tree was a special moment. Dad would take out a special wooden box that I never saw throughout the year because it was hidden up high on the topmost shelf. Inside the wooden box, there were old Christmas decorations, some were even from my great grandparents. I still remember them: an old lady with her chick, pinecones covered in frost, long icicles, large shiny spheres and of course, the neverending string of lights. It might sound quite amusing, but if one of the lights went out, the whole string of lights would go out, and we would have to laboriously search for the faulty one in order to have everything working again!
I remember how my grandma and I would take the time to look at each ornament individually and carefully decide where it should go: the most special ones went on top; simple ones on the back of the tree and some large ones near the bottom of the tree. Under the tree, I would put layers of cotton (for snow) and place a Santa Claus (Grandpa Frost) figure with his granddaughter (Snegurochka). Santa Claus was absolutely magical: he had a soft white robe and a porcelain face. Every new year, my grandma and I would go to the store to buy just one new Christmas tree decoration – because if we bought more, we would have too many.
My parents spent a great deal of time in the kitchen cooking and baking. Grandma always baked three kinds of piеs (pirogi): one with meat, one with cabbage and one with potatoes, and also a big layered cake called a Napoleon cake with cream and small croissants. Mom would make six or seven dishes: all sorts of salads, fish dishes, and more. Dad would bake meat and potatoes – they were his specialties. I learned how to cook most of those dishes and still cook them around New Year’s, although it has always been a mystery how they could cook so many dishes at once!
And of course, it was time for big and small surprises. Every New Year’s, Dad would bring home a confetti cracker. After making a booming sound, it would sprinkle confetti all over the floor and drop one tiny surprise. Even though the surprise was made out of plastic and was pretty simple, as a child, it was priceless to me. One year, the cracker made a booming sound, confetti spilled onto the floor, but there was no sign of a surprise. I was very sad, but kept looking for it. My parents tried to comfort me, “Maybe the people at the factory forgot to put a surprise into the cracker…” “No, no, no mama – it should be there!!” – I continued searching for it all over the floor until finally I found a little hockey stick and tiny hockey puck. It was made out of cheap plastic, but I remember being so happy! After all, I waited an entire year for the surprise!
When I was five years old, my parents invited Santa Claus (Grandpa Frost) with his granddaughter (Snegurochka). It was absolutely amazing – they came to my apartment, I showed them my Christmas tree, they took time to listen to me and give me a gift and then they had dinner with my family and my best friend’s family. What can be better than dinner with Santa??
The next day my best friend Natasha, who was two years older than me asked me with a no-nonsense tone of voice: “Do you believe in Santa Claus?” What else could I say, especially after his visit? “Of course!!” I replied. My best friend said, “You should know, he is not real!” I protested with all my heart, “No, no, we both saw him yesterday and his granddaughter.” “Well,” said Natasha, “I have a proof for you!! When we all had dinner, your mom called his granddaughter Nina, not Snegurochka.”
I cried and ran to my parents. I remember breathing heavily… “Oh, mamaaaa, how could you?? They are not real?? You called her Nina!” I remember my mom said, very calmly and with a matter-of-fact tone of voice, “Yes, she is Snegurochka, but her name is Nina. Just like you are my daughter and your name is Kira.” This calmed me down, I thought to myself “that makes sense.” And I went back to play without any worries on my mind.
Midnight was a magical time on New Year’s – all children were allowed to stay up and we all made a wish. I also took the tradition from that time to make plans and resolutions for the next year, and I continue the tradition to this day.
What special memories do you have from your childhood? Which traditions do you hope to carry on with your children?
Wishing you all the best in this difficult yet exciting journey of parenting!